Love conquers all

August 31, 2008

Just recently I was playing on Googlefight with the kids. It’s a site where you put two words in, and the one with the highest number of hits on Google wins. It’s hilarious fun, and they loved it. We started out with ‘bacon’ vs ‘brocolli’, then for each word that won, tried to find another word that would beat it. Fairly soon we got from foodstuffs to famous people. We jumped around between famous people and superheroes for a while, for example ‘batman’ beats ‘britney spears’, but ‘jesus’ beats ‘batman’. ‘Jesus’ is fairly hard to beat. The ‘devil’, at 158 million hits, can’t do it, and neither can ‘satan’.

‘God’ (598 million) is pretty much the only one that’ll beat ‘jesus’ (236 million). It’s quite hard to find a word that’ll beat ‘god’, but unsurprisingly ‘sex’ (767 million) will do it. ‘Money’, at just over 1 billion mentions, beats sex [when I did this with the kids I skipped over ‘sex’ to ‘money’, but came back and checked later]. By this time I was starting to get somewhat despondent about the fate of the human race.

The only word I could find that would beat ‘money’ though, was ‘love’. ‘Love’ is mentioned 2.39 billion times on the web. ‘Love’ beats ‘hate’, ‘sex’, ‘money’, ‘drugs’, and ‘god’. My faith in humanity has been restored. Love conquers all.

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Quaker Processes Seminar

July 28, 2008

The following are the notes from the Quaker Processes Seminar I helped facilitate on 25-27 July 2008, at the Quaker Settlement, Whanganui

What is the Quaker Process?

“An attempt to work out Friends’ testimony that there is no division between worship and the rest of life. Contributions come from the deep place of ministry.”

“Responsibility of all, waiting and listening, trying to get the sense of the Meeting/will of God/…”

“Like Meeting for Worship, but with a focus on the business, as directed by God / in the light”

“A gathered Meeting, attending to business in the presence of the Spirit”

“Is based in the centredness of worship, and accords respect and understanding to each contribution in the same way as with spoken ministry”

How do we know when the process is going well?

Peaceful feeling
things flow
trust the process
no rumblings
people feel heard & understood
relaxing of shoulders
benign body language, smiling and nodding of heads
depth of worship
sense of rightness
not for us to judge
Friends will be in friendship
the clerk has been able to get a sense of the Meeting
Whanaungatanga (making of a family)

How do we know afterwards that it has gone well?

the concern continues to evolve
it was a decision no one had in mind when they came to the Meeting
minutes are a joy to read
sometimes we don’t know for years
lack of feedback to clerk
the piece of business doesn’t keep returning

What is the difference between consensus and Quaker business process?

Consensus MFW for Business
Agreement – minority gave way
best decision everyone is prepared to live with
building into decision as many needs as can be accommodated
less alienation (than voting)
often not well done
based on individual views
compromise
surprise decision
Unity in spirit
common ground of testimonies
ability to stand aside from minute
but all responsible for forwarding minute
surprise decision
search for way Meeting is being led
more willingness to wait – for “way to open”
Facilitator
Alignment/agreement to proceed
power of individual to stop
agreement of those present
rational level of awareness
Clerk
if not in unity – status quo remains
potential of transforming power
deeper level sought after
Interminable discussion
individuals
the people with room for compromise
majority has weight
active processes to build consensus
usually involves consultation
Hopefully more crisp
terminable without consensus
corporate with divine
something beyond ourselves
the spirit with no room for compromise or bargain
majority should not have weight – not what it’s about
formal consent – if it had really mattered you would have stopped it
All agree
same understanding
unlike Parliament
most people will speak more than once
generally involves much debate and chit chat
decision come to based on people’s opinion
doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is happy with decision (can be same for MFW for Business)
People can stand aside – don’t agree but won’t stand in the way
factor light/god extra in the room
comes out of the silence
generally people only speak once
not debate and chit chat between members (generally)
decision that are come to are grounded in Quaker principles
can stop talking and ask for silence to refocus on the spirit
if disagreement – leave issue and come back to later

Role of the individual in MFW for Business

No side chatting
holding others to account
don’t sit on something
leave ego in the carpark
look for widest relevant context
concentrate
engaged
heart and mind prepared
done homework
keep a sense of worship
develop a ‘nose’ for manipulation
offer my experience and information, but no ego
represent absent Friends’ points of view
be proactive
listen carefully
self disciple
uphold Clerk while they’re writing a minute
Awareness of others
prepared to change my mind
asking for silence when appropriate/needed
avoid bombast
Speak once, and sparingly
If God prods, speak
Put your point don’t heavy/push/persuade/preempt
holding vigilance

Dealing with conflict and disunity

What is conflict in a Meeting? What is disunity in a Meeting?
Different strong views forcibly expressed
when no listening or understanding of the views
opportunity to grow in unity
absence of love
not talking
Illusion
unease
doesn’t feel like illusion
cheap unity
misunderstanding
statement of facts that have no basis
that of god in others not recognised
Disagreement (passionate) disharmony
derogeratory opinions
hostility
reactive outbursts
refusal to accept outcomes
inappropriate repetitive behaviour
can be creative
Not in alignment
unwillingness
Can be less overt than elsewhere – low level muttering
clumps of people talking together and making allies
people stay away, stop coming
defensiveness, loss of trust
outbursts of anger, frustration
business not done well
Division of opinion, particularly about decision post or pending
can start as disunity and grow to conflict
longer lasting that ‘not yet in unity’ – where processes not building unity
Affects the state of the meeting
You just know
divergent views that their holders can’t adapt/resolve
can be visible or underlying and ongoing eg different views on right ministry
can be a means of growth
can go along with respect
Can be concealed
can grow from unresolved conflict, lack of skill in using rather than abusing
imbalance eg a group with needs not met, personalities unbalanced
a group driving a particular agenda eg property related
power imbalance
people don’t respect one another
people aren’t open to change

Methods for dealing with conflict/disunity

Speaking plainly
prepared confrontation
mediation
publicly reminding ourselves of our methods, role of clerk, self discipline
phone calls (lots)
understanding the person/group and issue
worship
naming the conflict
calling on Elders (and on Elders from other Meetings)
providing information
giving time
creative listening
a Listening Meeting
asking for silence
worship sharing
role reversal
not talking
informal social time
getting together
gossip
Clearness Meeting
Therapy
raising an issue in a meeting not open to all / in a smaller forum

Creative Listening

give space to others
speak from yourself
use early, when we being to perceive a problem
can be a way of life
to deal with or express as specific issues
to give space for feelings
to allow people really to look at and think about a problem
for sharing experience
to allow the uncovering of something important/of concern to a person which isn’t always obvious ie to help someone through an issue

Mediation

Listening
mediator trusted by both sides, go between
clear mediation process, agreed by both parties
allowing conflict to happen
might be used when:
clear issue
specific topic
later when other methods have been used
not involve whole meeting
smaller groups

Worship sharing

Based in worship
listening
space to speak given and respected
no criticism or comments
given time and attention
safety to speak
akin to ministry
MFW but themed
Can have great depth
adaptable to size of group
maintenance tool
Uses:
part of a clearness meeting
when wish to go below the surface
spiritual nurture support group
useful tool to make sure all are heard
wonderful way of honest sharing and deep listening, a uniting effect
to heal disunity

Clearness Meeting

Deep listening
small and nonthreatening
supportive, guidance
MFW but with a smaller group
not too pressuring
can bring/choose trusted friends to attend
assists the individual
non judgmental
Soundboard off the group
similar to mediation (more spiritual perhaps)
uses time out / silence
can be a threshing meeting
resolution, unlike creative listening
kind of like spiritual nurture support group, listing supporting, helping, the way forward
can be hard to do if without help
sometimes doesn’t work, not used properly

Uses:
for marriage concerns
provide individuals clearness and strength
discerning a way forward
canadian YFs often use for personal problems
can be used for membership concerns
used to mend unhappiness
retirement concerns
perhaps should use more, useful for Meetings
urgent crises, clarifications

Resources

Web Sites:

http://quakerquaker.org – A community of blogs and social media about Friends

http://speakingtruth.org – an online gathering place for powerful and transformative audio-media from all branches of the Quaker tradition

http://www.quaker.org.nz/blogs/yfs – Aotearoa NZ Young Friends blog

http://www.skype.com – free Internet based phone and audio conferencing software

Books:

“When Friends attend to business”, Thomas Brown

“Practicing Discernment Together” by Lon Fendall, Jan Wood, Bruce Bishop (Barclay Press)

“Beyond Consensus – salvaging sense of the Meeting”, Barry Morley

“Gospel Order – a Quaker understanding of faithful church community”, Sandra Cronk

“Spiritual Discernment – the context and goal of clearness committees”, Patricia Loring

“Beyond Majority rule – voteless decisions in the Religious Society of Friends”, Michael J. Sheeran

Feedback

What went well
Length of each session
good handouts
interaction in little groups
well prepared facilitators
variety of facilitators and different activities
good to go around in different groups (except for the scribes)
presence and participation of YFs
depth of experience
the way that the experience was drawn out
great group of people
photos of whiteboard
What could be improved
weather was cold
white board pens – need more
a lot of sitting
making sure ideas are captured

Ideas for next time
role play – more of them
seminar on conflict resolution or mediation
info shared
more specific details
do it again north/south

Quaker’s Bad Behavior

June 17, 2008

I’ve started using Gmail for my personal mail, including all the Quaker email groups I’m on. One of the Google Ads that just came up above my email said:

Quaker Talk – www-Quaker-Training.comStop Your Quaker’s Bad Behavior Train Your Quaker – Fast & Easy!

If only it were that simple…

Impossible is nothing

May 28, 2008

I saw this on a poster recently and really really like it:

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in a world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Mohammed Ali

The end of some things and the beginning of more

March 30, 2008

I woke in the morning in a room of straw. Sunlight glanced through the wide window, and I rose, rested and glad of the day. The last day of my last Young Friends camp for the rest of my life.

I should feel sad but I just don’t. I don’t even feel quite the sense of completion I thought I might. I simply feel content, sure and happy with the experience having unfolded exactly in the way it did.

This path I began in 2004 has filled my life with love I had never envisaged or expected. The connection to these people has become not so much an experience, or something I posses, but just part of who I am, part of the fabric of this wonderful life.

To me this camp felt gentle, warm, calm as a slow moving river in the middle of summer. We sang, ate, worked and worshiped. I laughed with these beautiful people in the springtime of their lives.

Meeting the son of my first love and getting to know him as a friend was an unexpected pleasure. Seeing him instantly accepted by others as if he’d been coming for years filled my heart with a sense of joy I find it difficult to describe.

Even as some things come to an end new things begin.

Meeting Emily from Canberra and realizing we have a whole lifetime of Quaker events, conversations and sharing ahead of us made saying goodbye the start of something rather than the end. It seemed fitting that she was the last person I said farewell to at the airport.

I know now that ending my participation in YF business and YF camps doesn’t mean ending these friendships, or being in some way part of this community as it flows into the wider Quaker world.

When YF Camp finished four of us cycled to the train in Masterton. The day shone as we rode through the rolling hills, and I could think of no place I would rather be. Riding with friends in the sun, sharing our journey for a way, and knowing that in time we will share it again.

Small and simple acts

March 15, 2008

Whenever I’m walking in Christchurch or Wellington my rule is that if I can see a piece of litter and a rubbish bin at the same time I’ll pick up the former and put it in the latter. Sometimes I extend this if I can’t see a bin but am fairly sure there’ll be one soon.

When I was in Sydney last week I found this was much harder. There was so much litter it would have taken me twice as long to get anywhere. I ended up not picking up any as it just didn’t seem like I’d be making any sort of dent in it. Over a couple of days it faded into the background and I stopped noticing it at all.

Another thing that was different from the NZ cities I spend time in was the number of homeless people. Not just in the parks but lying down on footpaths, sitting in gutters, shaking and bereft while hundreds of people walked past them every few minutes.

While out for a run it struck me that the problem is the same. While there are probably a similar number of homeless people per capita in Christchurch and Sydney, in a densely populated city you just see more of them every day. Because they seem more numerous a type of ‘learned helplessness’ sets in among the people that could help. There are just so many homeless people, what difference could one act of kindness really make? So people go about their busy days, and before too long the people lying in the gutter just fade into the background.

People are not litter. They do not deserve to be cast aside, forgotten and alone. What can we do to pick up those whom others have dropped? What are the small things we could do everyday? What would the world be like if even one in every ten people picked up a few pieces of litter, and did something to help the less fortunate among us?

In all your honesty

January 24, 2008

Thomas looked at me, his warm smile showing quiet confidence and nervous anticipation at the same time. We stood on a slightly raised concrete platform, a foot above the grass of the clearing, beneath a mighty totara, decorated with a wooden cross. The wedding guests slowly filled up the clearing, seating themselves on the forms and chairs arrayed in rows like a church.

I welcomed them and asked them to sit in silence while we waited for Rhea to be escorted in by her father. The musician played, the birds sang in the trees high above, and the wind wafted forcefully around us. Thomas and I stood, smiling at each other and the group. As the seconds drew out, and the tension grew I said silently in my mind to Thomas, “relax my friend, she’ll come”.

With a collective breath out of relief, heads turning, and admiring smiles the guests watched as Rhea walked in slowly, well supported by the steady right arm of her father. He carefully led her up onto the platform, Thomas took her hands, his eyes shining, and they stood facing each other.

I addressed the assembled group and explained how the ceremony would unfold. It felt good to be there, confident and sure, speaking strongly so my voice would carry over the wind and the noise of the swaying trees. The words I spoke were both Thomas’ and mine, his poetry held within my structure. I described the silent worship part of the ceremony:

“After the exchange of vows, as in a Quaker Meeting, we will wait in silence until we may feel compelled to speak. If you are moved to speak, please leave some silence between yourself and the previous speaker. Everyone is welcome to share, however this is not speech-making time, there will be plenty of time for that later on. Rather this is a special and sacred space for a deep and soulful pondering on the nature of love and commitment, and on Rhea and Thomas as a couple. We ask that if you do feel called to speak, or sing, or pray, or recite, that you do so from the heart, and in all your honesty.”

I concluded my introduction, sat down in the front row, and silence fell. Rhea and Thomas looked at each other, and I could see the emotions pass over his face. Excitement, trepidation, and a rising calm as he let go and he waited for the spirit to move him. Dappled sunlight fell upon them, the wind stilled, and the wings of a kereru beat the air above. Thomas spoke his vows to Rhea, love welling up on his face as he passionately committed his life to hers. The honesty with which he spoke, the integrity of his love, and the sureness of his voice moved me deeply. Rhea spoke next, more quietly.

Rings followed, silence, and ministry from Thomas’ sister, Rhea’s father, and two friends. That they felt confident to share, each moved according to their own fashion, and conveying the full emotion of their feelings, made me very glad. In the absence of a priest Thomas gave himself permission to kiss Rhea. I declared them married, and the musicians sang a beautiful song as the couple walked off the platform and down the aisle.

Rhea and Thomas, you blessed me greatly in asking me to facilitate your marriage ceremony. It is an experience I will never forget. Seeing the strength of your love for each other, and the unfettered honesty with which you voiced it is an example to us all. May your life be filled with joy.

Living Dangerously

January 13, 2008

During the holiday period between Christmas and mid January I generally lose track of what day of the week it is, and rely on dates. At Summer Gathering I lose track of dates, and just go by which day of the gathering it is, or how many days there are still to go.

So, the day after SG ended, I was very pleased to realise it was a Sunday, and we were staying in Mt Eden, just minutes from the Meeting House. When I walked in to Meeting that morning, I saw people I had hugged goodbye the day before, not expecting to see for weeks or months.

At Summer Gathering I ran a session entitled ‘Dangerous Quakers’. This was inspired by a blog post by Peggy Senger Parsons, a Friend from the US. The session was about the way Quakers are often dangerous in the sense they are disruptive to the forces of oppression and inequality. They are dangerous to those who promote war and injustice as solutions to the world’s problems. This often involves Friends placing themselves in danger, in terms of their income, their liberty, their safety or even their lives. This willingness to sacrifice (aspects of) oneself for a greater truth has a power that Ghandi described as satyagraha, or ‘truth force’. I was very interested in how people tell whether they are being dangerous in this sense, or just reckless. How they tell whether what they are feeling is a calling from the Spirit, or just a ‘bee in their bonnet’.

During the session the importance of the people and Meetings that support those called came up several times. This is both in helping individual Friends listen to and discern their leadings, and in supporting their resulting actions. Coming into Meeting for Worship in Mt Eden made me realise yet again that it is the everpresent community of Friends that enables some of our number to head the call of the Spirit and do things that are dangerous.

12 Days of Christmas

December 23, 2007

At Meeting yesterday we had carols and some readings. This was led by the resident Friends, one of whom explained one of the reasons she’d heard as to why Quakers don’t generally sing during worship. Apparently because they weren’t prepared to say things they didn’t believe, and a lot of the conventional church hymns had phrases that fell into that category for many early Friends.

I must admit there were a few phrases from the carols we sang that I hummed along with rather than sang out loud, in particular references to the virgin birth, and Jesus as ‘Lord’. There was one fantastic carol that I was very happy to sing right through though, a modern interpretation of the 12 Days of Christmas, called “12 Days of Christmas in New Brighton”.

“On the 12th day of Christmas we all shared together peace and goodwill for all to share, 11 excited children, 10 dancing pirates, 9 carol singers, 8 local artists, 7 sausages a sizzling, 6 sand castles, 5 expressions of love, 4 moments of joy, 3 vigils for peace, 2 messages of hope, and a great love for all to share. “

Jesus for the Non-Religious

December 2, 2007

Today I listened to this podcast from National Radio’s Spiritual Outlook programme*. I listen to all the episodes of Spiritual Outlook as they come out, but it’s only rarely that one inspires me to blog about it.

This one was an interview with Bishop John Spong. He is a liberal theologian and has written many books, including recently Jesus for the Non-Religious. His views resonated very closely with mine.

Historically agreed facts he cites:

  1. Jesus lived between 4 BC and 30 AD
  2. The gospels were written between 70 and 100 AD
  3. The gospels were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor his apostles spoke
  4. The gospels were written by people who had never met Jesus, and were going on two or three generations of stories passed down by word of mouth

Bishop Spong argues that the literalist interpretation of Jesus as a supernatural figure in the Bible, capable of performing miracles, leaves people today with only two alternatives (at least from the point of view of the Christian tradition) . To be hysterical irrational fundamentalists, or to give the whole thing up as a lost cause and be secular. He thinks it’d be nice if there was something in between that was possible. An interpretation of Jesus that sees him as a man who was so open, so fully human that he was able to be so utterly filled with the energy of the Universe, the ground of being, the divine spirit, what Quakers call the inner light.

This is the Jesus I want to believe in. I want to believe that it is possible for any human to be as filled with the spirit as Jesus. To me it is so much more impressive that he did this as a man, rather than as a supernatural being with special powers.

Bishop Spong also talks about prayer, critical of prayers that are ‘adult letters to a Santa Claus God’. Rather, he sees prayer as a way to become more human, more open to the spirit.

Again, this is very close to the way I see prayer and worship, a way inward, to walk on the journey toward being more fully human. To me the historical Jesus is a guide on this path, someone who walked it with integrity, insight and love.

* if the podcast is gone by the time you read this it’s because National Radio only keep their podcasts up there for 3 months or so. If you’d like a copy of it just email me.